Tag Archive | "Rick Ankiel"

Triple Play: Oakland A’s, Rick Ankiel, Vernon Wells

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we examine the hottest team in baseball, take a look at what could be the end of one of the most fascinating careers in recent baseball history, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

RickAnkiel

Who’s Hot?

Oakland Athletics

Here they go again. The A’s are on another one of their white-hot streaks. Since last losing two games in a row on May 14-15 versus the Rangers, the A’s have gone 18-5 and now sit a half-game behind first-place Texas in the AL West. It’s not just a home-field advantage, either; Oakland has played 15 road games during this stretch. Whereas previous A’s teams have had dominating starting pitching, it is the bullpen that has been the most dominating feature of the 2013 team. Closer Grant Balfour and setup men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook have slammed the door on the opposition, each boasting an ERA below 2.00 and park-adjusted ERA+ numbers over 200. The rotation is anchored by 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who has walked six batters in 77 innings this season. He doesn’t strike out batters the way he used to, but he adapted quite well, as demonstrated by his two complete-game shutouts. Everyone else in the A’s rotation is 26 or younger. The oldest position player is 33-year-old outfielder Coco Crisp, who serves as the team’s spark plug, with a .383 on-base percentage, 13 steals, 40 runs scored and 22 RBI. The blossoming star of the team, though, is outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who leads the team with 13 home runs, despite hitting only .236/.305/.492. The flashes of brilliance from the 27-year-old Cuban defector are tantalizing, to say the least. But the real revelation this season has been third baseman Josh Donaldson, who we discussed in last week’s Triple Play. His .328/.395/.528-9-42-2-33 hitting line has deepened the A’s lineup and eased pressure on Josh Reddick, who has battled injuries and an awful slump so far this season. Obviously, the A’s won’t continue to play at a .750-plus clip, but even if with the inevitable regression to the means, they have a strong enough team to be the challenger to the Texas Rangers that most analysts expected the Los Angeles Angels to be. Underestimate the Athletics at your own risk.

 

Who’s Not?

Rick Ankiel, New York Mets/???

Unfortunately, it looks like this might be the end of the line for one of the most intriguing players of the past 12-15 years. The Mets, desperate for competent outfielders, designated Ankiel for assignment prior to Sunday’s game against the Marlins. If this is in fact the end for Ankiel, Saturday’s game was not a satisfying conclusion: four at-bats in the 20-inning marathon, three strikeouts. Between his time this season with the Astros and Mets, Ankiel did manage to bash seven home runs and drive in 18, but he hit just .188/.235/.422 with 60 strikeouts in 136 plate appearances and drew only eight walks. His combined OPS+ was 79. That was just too far below replacement level for any team to accept. Since leaving the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2009 season, Ankiel played for the Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros and Mets. He was a serviceable part-time player with Washington in 2011, but was overexposed due to too much playing time. Since then, his strike zone discipline, never great to begin with, has further deteriorated. The Mets are going nowhere this season and are much better served to give Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 25, and Juan Lagares, 24, a chance to stick in the majors. If it is in fact the end for Ankiel, he can look back at two distinctly different career paths – both of which ended up in the major leagues. From the dominating rookie year, to the shocking meltdown in the 2000 playoffs, to the switch from pitcher to outfielder, to the legendary home run in his first game back in the majors as an outfielder (all with the Cardinals), to the journey around baseball as a part-time player, Ankiel has had one of the most fascinating careers of any professional athlete. He will, and should, be remembered as one of the most unique baseball players of his generation.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: 4-6, 5.82 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 78 ERA+

Player B: 2-4, 6.30 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 72 ERA+

Talk about ugly. Player A is Jon Garland, who was designated for assignment Saturday by the Colorado Rockies. Player B is Jeff Francis, who replaced Garland in the rotation Saturday and pitched four largely ineffective innings in his return. Remember that scene in The Last Boy Scout, where Bruce Willis’ character catches his best friend hiding in his bedroom closet and asks him “head or gut?” That’s the kind of choice that Rockies fans have to endure with these two pitchers. Frankly, neither one has any business being on a major-league roster. Garland was tolerable in April, but has been shellacked regularly since then. Francis, who barely throws harder than knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, is hopefully just holding a place in the Rockies’ rotation until Roy Oswalt is ready to go (he is scheduled for two more starts at Double-A Tulsa). If you are a fantasy owner who actually had Garland or Francis on your team, your first move isn’t to dump them from your roster – it’s to ask yourself whether you should even be playing fantasy baseball in the first place.

Player A: .241/.285/.409, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB, 25 runs

Player B: .220/.364/.429, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB, 26 runs

Player A is the Yankees’ Vernon Wells. Player B is Josh Willingham of the Twins. Remember Wells’ fast start, where he smacked six homers and slugged .544 with a .911 OPS in April? Yeah, that’s just a fond memory now. Wells may as well be wearing concrete shoes with the way he is sinking. It started in May, when his average slumped to .221, but he hit four more homers and ended the month with 24 RBI. He was still being reasonably productive, especially considering what had been expected of him before the season started. The wheels have completely come off the wagon now. Wells is hitting a pathetic .115 in June with no extra-base hits. If fantasy owners haven’t dumped him yet, the time has probably come. Willingham, on the other hand, might be snapping out of a funk that dogged him the entire month of May. Since the calendar flipped to June, though, Willingham has hit a home run and driven in six. Despite the poor May, Willingham is still on pace to hit 28 dingers and drive in close to 90. Hopefully you weren’t expecting the 34-year-old to repeat the 35-110-85 line he put up in 2012, as that was clearly an outlier compared to the rest of his career. Isn’t it interesting, though, how similar these two stat lines are for these two players? One is slumping his way to the bench, while the other is showing signs of heating up.

Random Thoughts

  • Time for our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. All season long, we are keeping track of how stingy the Cardinals’ ace is being with the free passes. In his most recent start Friday night against the rival Reds, Adam Wainwright tossed another seven brilliant innings, striking out seven Reds and issuing just one walk. That brings his season total to seven walks (in an NL-leading 96 innings), versus 91 strikeouts. His K/BB ratio is 13-to-1, still tops in either league. He has also allowed only two home runs this season.
  • Kyle Blanks, who looks like a defensive end trying his hand at baseball, is giving San Diego’s lineup a much needed jolt of power (6 HR, 21 RBI, 17 runs) since being recalled in mid-April. Chris Denorfia and Will Venable are acceptable 4th outfielders, but neither has any business playing regularly ahead of Blanks.
  • I don’t understand all the surprise about Jeff Baker and his 8 home runs for the Rangers this season. He’s not an unknown rookie, folks. In 2008, he thumped 12 long balls with the Rockies. He held the utility job with the Cubs from 2009-12 (until Theo Epstein started his Windy City rebuilding project). Always had some pop in his bat; now he’s in a great hitter’s park. Perfect situation for Baker.
  • Speaking of puzzling fantasy analysis, what’s with all the love for Casey Kotchman in Miami? He was the Opening Day first baseman, but was injured April 3 spent two months on the disabled list. Upon his return, he’s gone 0-for-16. He doesn’t have a hit this season. All he was doing is filling a roster spot until the REAL first baseman of the Marlins’ future returned: Logan Morrison (who was activated Sunday). That’s the name that smart fantasy analysts should have been filing away.
  • Tell me whether you recognize this feeling: you see a slugfest, like the Padres-Rockies 11-9 game Friday night and you think to yourself “Sweet! Lots of fantasy goodness here!” Then you check the boxscore and…..nothing. Your fantasy player contributed a big fat ZERO to the game (coughChaseHeadleycough). If there is a more annoying feeling in fantasy sports, I don’t know what it is.
  • Is the Frenchy love-fest finally over in Kansas City? It should be. Jeff Francoeur has been as terrible the past few weeks as well (one measly homer, four extra-base hits, five RBI since May 1). Never a player interested in drawing a walk, Frenchy has seen his OPS drop to a ghastly .375 in June. At least fans can take solace knowing that Wil Myers is on the way….er, um, wait. Never mind.
  • The 18-inning game, 5 ½-hour tilt between the Rangers and Blue Jays on Saturday was the longest game in the history of either franchise.
  • Here are some notes from the longest game of the season, the 20-inning marathon endured by fans Saturday between the Mets and Marlins (won by the Marlins 2-1):
    • The two teams combined to leave 32 men on base (22 by the Mets!) and whiff 35 times.
    • Four pitchers turned in quality starts: original starters Jose Fernandez (6 IP, 1 ER, 7 Ks), Matt Harvey (7 IP, 1 ER, 6 Ks), plus Miami’s Kevin Slowey (7 IP, 8 hits, 8 Ks) and New York’s Shaun Marcum (8 IP, 5 hits, 7 Ks). Despite his yeoman’s job out of the bullpen, Marcum was charged with the loss.
    • Daniel Murphy had two of the most eventful outs of the game: first, he was thrown out at home to end the 12th inning, then his potential game-tying homer was caught on the warning track to end the game.
    • Marlins’ rookie outfielder Marcell Ozuna’s throw to gun down Murphy at the plate was part of a beautiful double play to end the 12th. Ozuna sprinted to the right-field line to rob Marlon Byrd of a hit, then he fired a strike to catcher Rob Brantly, who held on to the ball despite a ferocious collision with Murphy.
    • Entering Sunday’s game, Ozuna is hitting .328 in 35 games since being called up. At 22, he is giving Marlins fans (all six of them) another reason to keep watching while Giancarlo Stanton is on the DL.
    • Mets fans have got to be holding their breath after their ace, Harvey, depart the game with back pain. Harvey and David Wright are all that separates the Mets from being Marlins Part 2.
  • How the Rockies remain above .500 is beyond me. In addition to trotting out Garland and Francis far too often this year, their bullpen (other than Rex Brothers) has been putrid. Friday night, some guy named Rob Scahill allowed five runs without retiring a batter, as the Rockies twice gagged away a six-run lead. I was there. It was one of the worst relief performances I have ever seen in quite some time. Sunday was just as bad. Juan Nicasio was perfect for 5 1/3 innings before tiring. By the time the bullpen finished pouring turpentine on the fire, the Padres had gone from trailing 4-0 to leading 7-4. Even with help on the way (Roy Oswalt, Tyler Chatwood), it’s probably time to start searching for relief help. If the bullpen doesn’t get upgraded soon, all the hitting heroics in the world won’t save the Rockies season.
  • Sending good thoughts to Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy. Already on the DL with shoulder inflammation last week, McCarthy suffered a seizure that doctors said was related to his head injury last season. Scary stuff. McCarthy has told reporters that he is fine now. I hope that is truly the case.
  • Finally, heartfelt condolences to the family of legendary Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, whose wife lost her battle with brain cancer last Thursday. She was just 64.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Rick Ankiel Returns To St. Louis

Rick Ankiel began the 2013 season as a member of the Houston Astros.  After a month of the season, he was given his release and found himself a free agent.

RickAnkiel

Until today.

Ankiel is on his way to St. Louis and is expected to be in the starting lineup tonight when the New York Mets take the field against Ankiel’s former team.

The story of Ankiel and his journey through baseball from starting pitcher to slugging outfielder is well documented.  His time in St. Louis developed a near cult following, thanks in large part to the love Aaron Hooks and Cards Diaspora shows him on a regular basis.

Tonight Ankiel returns to Busch Stadium, once again as a member of the opposition.  He has spent limited time in the visitor’s dugout of Busch Stadium, having played only six games against the team that drafted him.  In those six games, he is hitting .250 with no home runs and a single run batted in.  He does boast a .260 average with 24 home runs and 83 runs batted in over the course of 489 at bats during his career at the current version of Busch Stadium.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by 
clicking here.

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If Tyler Greene Homers In Chicago, Will Cardinal Nation Hear It?

St. Louis Cardinal fans are seemingly obsessed over former players.  Brendan Ryan, Rick Ankiel and Lance Berkman have all been on fans’ minds throughout the season.

Tyler Greene?  Not so much.

White Sox Mets Baseball

The middle infielder, who many believe cracked under the pressure that Tony LaRussa placed on him while they were both in uniform for the Cardinals, found himself on the outside looking in after a weak spring training with the Houston Astros.  He was released from his contract prior to opening day and he drifted off into oblivion.  Or Chicago.  Same thing in most people’s minds.

Tyler Greene is a Chicago White Sox infielder.  That news was a surprise to me as I read a recent article over at the St. Louis Sports Page about former Cardinals and how they are performing.  I had not heard anyone talking about him.  No fans rumbling about his arrival in the big leagues when Gordon Beckham went down hurt.  No sudden jubilation when he signed a contract with the pale hose on April 1st.

Surprisingly, not even a blurb on the internet when Greene went yard on April 26.

Greene is playing well in Chicago in very limited duty.  He has produced a .276/.323/.483 slashline in 29 at bats, producing a single home run and two runs batted in while scoring four times.  He has entered the game as a pinch runner or pinch hitter almost as many times (5) as he has on the field as a second baseman (6).  He has yet to attempt to steal a base and has committed one error in 29 chances.

Tyler Greene is a bench player in major league baseball, continuing to patrol the middle infield and run the base paths.  Leaving St. Louis has not injected his career with a sudden level of success.  The absence of Tony LaRussa has not allowed Greene to improve to the level that everyone thought.

Even so, it appears that no one cares.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by 
clicking here.

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Is Hands Off Best For Jaime?

Jaime Garcia has, at times, been one of the best pitchers the St. Louis Cardinals have on staff.  At other times, he has been erratic.

JaimeGarcia

It is a subject that has been poured over many times, but Jaime Garcia can go from “lights out” to “nobody’s home” with just a bad call or missed play behind him.  The lefty has shown moments of brilliance and moments of complete confusion, sometimes in the same game.  Much has been said about it and, behind the scenes, much has been analyzed about it.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has said in interviews that he fully believes that he could have helped prevent the amazing collapse of Rick Ankiel on the mound had he not been hurt and not on the field during the 2000 playoff run.  He has stated that earlier in that season, Ankiel had struggled and he was able to bring him back into focus and get through the situation.

Thirteen years later, Jaime Garcia has Matheny for a manager and the two are trying to find the best way to help the pitcher overcome mental lapses and realize his potential on the mound.

During a recent interview, Matheny has revealed that the team will attempt to take some pressure off of Garcia by not looking into every detail of the starter’s games.  It seems there is some concern that he tries to adjust his mechanics too often, becoming too much of a perfectionist and getting inside his own head.

“I’m not dissecting everything he’s doing,” Matheny insisted after the win. “I know everybody else likes to right now. I’m just watching him go out there and do his thing. He did a nice job of pitching without reading into every situation that he gets into or out of. … I made a commitment to myself not to microscope him.” –from StlToday.com

Garcia will need to continue to pitch at the level he projects at in 2013 for the Cardinals to remain successful.  In addition, with the young talent being developed in the system, Garcia may be pitching to secure a spot on this team in the near future.

Either way, getting Garcia out of his head and into a routine will be a good thing for everyone involved.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Opportunity In Center Field

Last week we began taking a look around the National League Central position by position to see where how the St. Louis Cardinals stack up heading into the 2012 season. We started with right field where St. Louis has the decided edge in both starting talent and depth. This week we slide over to what is for sure the most crucial position in the outfield and possibly on the diamond altogether…center field.

Cardinal nation has grown accustom to excellence in center field over the years. From the likes of Willie McGee to Jim Edmonds it was not just about All-Star selections, batting titles and Gold Gloves. Okay well it was, but it was also about longevity. Since Edmonds left St. Louis following the 2007 the Cardinals have had a revolving door out in center usually reserved for second base. Rick Ankiel, Colby Rasmus and Jon Jay have shagged most of the balls out there over the last four seasons.

Going into this spring Jay looks to solidify the spot and make it his own. For the Cardinals this presents the weakest of the three outfield positions. But perhaps the one with the most upside. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak views Jon Jay as the team’s everyday center fielder rather than the left-handed half of a platoon.

Jay has certainly held his own against southpaws in his career, sporting a .296/.356/.377 batting line as compared to a .298/.348/.436 line against right-handers. The splits evidently have Mozeliak and the Cards prepared to run Jay out there every day rather than find a right-handed hitting complement for him, which enhances his value.

Here is a look around the National League Central and how Jon Jay stacks up against his peers.

 

Cubs outfielder Marlon Byrd finished 2011 with nine homers, three steals, 35 RBIs, 51 runs scored and a .276 batting average. Byrd can supply a solid batting average but his lack of power and speed makes him a weak everyday outfielder. At age 34, it’s hard to predict any improvement in his 2012 numbers.

Reds outfielder Drew Stubbs swiped 40 bases in 2011, to go along with 15 homers, 44 RBIs, 92 runs scored and a .243 batting average. Stubbs reached the 40-steal level for the first time. But, the 27-year-old hit just .233 with four homers in the second half. This isn’t the profile of a leadoff hitter and the Reds could look for other options at that spot for 2012. The first Reds player with 40 steals in a season since Deion Sanders had 56 steals in 1997. Unfortunately, it can’t hide Stubbs’ struggles at the dish.

Astros outfielder Jordan Schafer hit .242 with two homers, 13 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 22 stolen bases in 2011. Schafer was traded to the Astros for Michael Bourn after failing to meet expectations in the Braves organization. The 25-year-old former top prospect had mixed results in limited time last season but remains the club’s best in-house option. Jason Bourgeois will continue to fill-in at all three outfield positions, while J.B. Shuck and Brian Bogusevic are also in the hunt . Schafer has enough speed (24 steals in 469 career at-bats) to warrant attention if he can get a full-time role in 2012. But he can’t steal first base and Schafer’s .228 career batting average could keep the 25-year-old from securing regular work.

Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan hit .304 in 2011, stole 13 homers, went deep four times, drove in 37 runs and scored 61 times. Morgan continued to be one of the game’s loudest players also let his bat do the talking with the second highest batting average on his team. Surprisingly, the Brewers didn’t let Morgan run the bases aggressively, as he stole 21 bases fewer than in 2009 despite collecting nearly as many hits.

Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen smacked 23 homers, swiped 23 bases, drove in 89 runs, scored 87 times and hit .259 in 2011. McCutchen posted his first 20-20 season but his other numbers weren’t as rosy. The 25-year-old was caught stealing 10 times, the same number as in 2010, despite attempting 10 fewer base swipes. He also hit .216 in the second half. There is still plenty of upside here, but several holes too.

Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay smacked 10 long balls, drove in 37 runs, scored 56 times, swiped six bases and hit .297 in 2011. Jay’s development was a key factor in the midseason trade of Colby Rasmus, as manager Tony La Russa wanted to get Jay into the lineup more often. Despite struggling at the dish in the postseason, the 26-year-old could be a big asset if he can exceed 500 at-bats in 2012.

Here is how I rank the center fielders heading into 2012.

  1. Andrew McCutchen
  2. Nyjer Morgan
  3. Drew Stubbs
  4. Jon Jay
  5. Marlon Byrd
  6. Jordan Schafer

Looking Ahead

Jon Jay will not be relied on to match the offensive numbers of his outfield mates Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran. Rather Jay will be looked to for defensive support, which he proved more than capable of providing in 2011. However In part-time at-bats, Jay has proven to be a solid offensive player, hitting for a high batting average with at least serviceable pop. If he can average his production out over a full season it will mean good things for the 2012 Cardinals.

Follow Derek on twitter at @SportsbyWeeze and check him out on Facebook

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Shelby Miller Scares Me

Over the past month or so, a lot of focus has been given to the minor league system and what players the Cardinals may have for the future. While the list of prospects and future major league contributors has grown, there has been the consistent focus that Shelby Miller is not just the “cream of the crop” but he is as can’t miss as anyone we have seen.

That scares me.

The Cardinals do not have a great track record with “can’t miss” prospects. This is not to say that the team cannot grow players from the farm system. Quite the contrary, players like Jaime Garcia, Daniel Descalso, Tyler Greene and many more have made their way through the system and into roles on the big league club. Okay, Tyler Greene was stretching a bit, but you get my point.

Here’s a look at some of the players that have come through the farm system for the Cardinals:

Adam Wainwright
I will start off with my “exception to the rule”. Wainwright was a key part of the Atlanta Braves system and the key component to the trade that sent J.D. Drew off to Atlanta. The prized piece of the trade for the Redbirds was to obtain Wainwright and get him working through the minor leagues as quickly as possible. He was, in fact, hit with the “can’t miss” label and in this instance, it was spot on. Wainwright has gone on to become the ace of the staff for the Cardinals and proved that sometimes, “can’t miss” is spot on.

J.D. Drew
Speaking of Mr. Drew, he makes our list next. A highly touted draft pick that the team picked up after he refused to sign with Philadelphia the year before, Drew was signed to a contract that put the team in a position to have him at the big league level immediately. Drew floundered a bit before finding his footing but found that the footing was a dangerous slope that kept him on the disabled list a lot more than expected. He has gone on to be a contributor with a few franchises, but I’m not sure he has become the star player we were all told he would be.

Rick Ankiel
It may be possible to list Ricky on this list twice, in all actuality. Rick was the “can’t miss” pitcher of the 90’s that came in and dominated hitters with his fastball and sweeping curve. Of course, when you put a lot of pressure on a young hurler, sometimes it can backfire. The implosion of Rick Ankiel on the mound made it hard to accept that he failed, but his reinvention as a power hitting, left handed center fielder brought him quickly back to the forefront of everyone’s mind. This time as a “can’t miss” outfielder, Ankiel proved the old Spiderman mantra – “With great power comes great responsibility”. In this case, responsibility would be to the strike zone and Rick seemed to have very little respect for it, chasing anything and everything that a pitcher let loose.

Yadier Molina
The backstop for the Cardinals since 2004 might be laced in gold, but his arrival to St. Louis was not an expected surge. Molina came onto the scene as the heir apparent to the Mike Matheny catching throne, but was surrounded with stigmas of being a defensive catcher and a liability at the plate. His manager stood by him and today Molina has proven that he belongs both at the plate and behind it, but he makes this discussion simply because he was not labeled as “can’t miss” and was more of a surprise than an expectation.

Albert Pujols
The guy no one wants to read about right now was a home grown talent himself. However, a late round draft pick from a junior college did not label him as the next great thing early on. An injury to left fielder Bobby Bonilla forced Tony LaRussa to let a young Pujols onto the roster, despite Tony’s desire to have him play another season at Memphis first. Albert is the exact opposite of the discussion here, a prospect that came through the organization, but not one that everyone was talking about before he arrived.

David Freese
The Most Valuable Player for both the National League Championship Series and the World Series, Freese is home grown and made his way through the minor leagues before arriving in St. Louis and taking over the hot corner. That being said, Freese was a cast off player from the San Diego Padres that was the proverbial “bag of balls” the team received when dealing Jim Edmonds. Even then, he was expected to be surpassed by Brett Wallace on his way to the majors and had many grumbling when he arrived at the big league level that he was a “stop gap” player at best.

Colby Rasmus
The five-tool player that was one of the biggest prospects to come through the organization in a long time, Colby Rasmus never materialized into the player the team thought he would be. In addition, through his time in St. Louis prior to the trade that would banish him from St. Louis, the National League, and even the country, Rasmus began to prove that his tools might have well been overstated as well.

Tyler Greene
Greene was the Cardinals’ first round draft pick in 2005 and was the player coming through the minors that would put an end to the revolving door at shortstop, giving the team a legitimate, long term answer to the middle infield conundrum. As he continued to produce through the minor league system, the team continued to project him being a bit part of the major league answer. When given the chance to grab that brass ring, however, Greene has provided fodder for many writers questioning his place in the major leagues. The “can’t miss” shortstop has become such a minimal part of the Cardinals’ future that they have signed Rafael Furcal to a two year contract to hold down the position while they wait to see what is happening with some of the younger guys.

Brett Wallace
Do you remember “The Walrus”? There was one thing we were promised about the big guy, he would hit. At every level the team placed him, he did just that. His defense, however, never improved and before you knew it he was blocked by the sudden surge of David Freese and was on his way out of St. Louis in order to acquire Matt Holliday. The addition of Holliday makes the Wallace situation a win for the Cardinals, but Wallace himself has struggled to find his footing. On the back end of two more trades, he now plays for the Houston Astros and the team is trying to determine if he deserves a shot to prove that he will be in their future, as a first baseman.

Jaime Garcia
The jury is still out on Jaime, trying to determine if he can find the magic he uses in April and May and spread it out over the course of the season in the near future. Another late round draft pick that has succeeded at every level in the minor leagues before arriving in St. Louis, Garcia is proving once again that sometimes it is the guys behind the “can’t miss” prospect that truly produce at the major league level. Garcia has been projected to have “ace type stuff”, but it was not until he was in the big leagues that we started hearing about it.

There are many players in the minor league system that may have a big impact on the big league club. There are a few that were with the big club last season that have the opportunity to contribute on a much larger scale. The track record for the Cardinals with “can’t miss” prospects suggests that Shelby Miller may not be the player that everyone should focus on going forward. It may be that guys like Matt Adams, Tony Cruz, Ryan Jackson, and even Daniel Descalso deserve some of that attention.

Shelby is a talented pitcher with a bright future. Due to recent history, however, that scares me.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Cards Outfield Possibilities Contain Familiar Names

The biggest topic out there for the Cardinals right now is their reported interest in Carlos Beltran.

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While Beltran may be a solid addition to a lineup that lost a huge bat this off season, two other names on the free agent market will be looking for contracts from a new team and St. Louis would provide a bit of a homecoming. Both Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel will be hoping to grab some playing time somewhere, despite many reports suggesting that they would be best served as platoon or bench players.

Could the Cardinals catch lightning in a bottle and find some level of success with either of these players? Do they have anything left to offer?

Rick Ankiel
We all know the story of Ankiel. A phenomenal left handed pitcher with all the promise in the world, he fell apart in the playoffs eventually “retiring” from baseball as a pitcher and reinventing himself as a center fielder with a power bat, a cannon arm, and above average instincts.

Why should the Cardinals consider Ankiel? There are various reasons. They could use a strong left handed bat off the bench. They could use an established, major league outfield talent to back up some of the youngsters. His defense is a step above most anyone the Cardinals have that can play center.

Most of all, when Ankiel fell apart on the mound, Mike Matheny would have been the catcher had he not had an accident with a hunting knife. Matheny has been quoted many times saying that he could have kept Rick calm and gotten him through that game. He has also stated that Rick showed signs of losing control throughout the second half of that season and Matheny was able to keep him in check. A reunion between the former battery mates might be just what the doctor ordered for Ankiel’s career.

Why should the Cardinals avoid this trip down memory lane? Just how good of a bat Ankiel provides is a debate in it of itself. Rick has been on the decline since before he left St. Louis and despite multiple venue changes (Atlanta, Kansas City, Washington) he has shown no signs of turning it around. His strikeout rate is still higher than most power hitters, limiting his value as a bench asset.

Ryan Ludwick
Ludwick arrived on the scene in St. Louis as a player forgotten in 2007. He quickly showed the world why they should have kept paying attention and put together a few solid seasons while playing right field and wearing the birds on the bat. A surprise trade that would send Ludwick to San Diego in 2010 and he would find some playing time in Pittsburgh last season after being traded back into the Central Division.

Why should the Cardinals consider Ludwick? Ludwick was loved by the fans and seemingly loved the city. His playing time in St. Louis was the pinnacle of his career and he still seems to have something to offer. Where Ludwick tends to struggle is when he is the focus of the offense. He struggled in St. Louis when key players were out and he was the premier bat in the lineup. With Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, David Freese, and Yadier Molina in the lineup, that problem would seemingly be gone. Ludwick has remained sturdy, avoiding long stints on the disabled list and proving that he would be in the lineup day in and day out. Despite his drop in production, he has been able to continue to produce Runs Batted In throughout his career.

Why should the Cardinals avoid this trip down memory lane? About that drop in production…Ludwick will turn 34 next season and shows very little sign of returning to the player of old. A strong defender with a plus arm, he hasn’t performed well at the plate since his breakout 2008 season. He is best suited at a platoon situation at this point in his career. His strikeout rate has continued to climb over the past few years, though that can be explained a bit by lack of protection in the lineups he has been in. Most importantly, Ludwick plays the corner outfield positions and the Cardinals are set there, the bigger need in St. Louis is in Center.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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He Is A Classy Dick

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch utilized Twitter to showcase the full page ad that Rick Ankiel took out in today’s newspaper.

Classy move by the player affectionately tagged as “Dick” Ankiel by our friends over at Cards Diaspora. In fact, they bid him adieu in 2010 when he left the team.

Important to realize that this, in fact, his first game in the Gateway City since his departure. While playing for the Royals and the Braves in 2010 would allow Rick to face off against his old club, it was as the home team both times. Due to injuries and his status as more of a backup outfielder in that time frame, Ankiel would only come to the plate twice against his former club last year. He would register a walk and a run scored for his troubles.

Over the course of 2010, Ankiel would ultimately struggle for his two clubs. He would only play in 27 games as a member of the Kansas City Royals, slowed by injuries early on. During those 27 games, Ankiel would hit .261 with four home runs and 15 runs batted in, walking seven times and showing that he never has mastered plate discipline by striking out 29 times. The trade deadline would approach and the Royals would flip him to the Atlanta Braves for the stretch run.

Health would not be an issue for Ankiel in Atlanta, but production would be. Over the course of 47 games, Ankiel would only produce a .210 batting average, two home runs, nine runs batted in, 19 walks and 42 strike outs while coming off the bench primarily.

In December of last year, Ankiel would sign a free agent contract to join the Washington Nationals and join a crowded outfield as, once again, primarily a bench player. He would show up early to Spring Training, at least, he would show up to the Cardinals facility to work out with friends and former teammates after being granted permission by both his current club and the Cardinals. Ankiel lives just a short distance from the Cardinals spring training facility. The extra work paid off as the Nationals proclaimed him their starting center fielder as the team broke camp.

The success has not carried over to the season, however, and MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Nationals are in the market for a full time option in center field due to Ankiel’s struggles against lefties. So far this season Ankiel is hitting .211 with one home run and four runs batted in over 57 at bats. He has walked six times but the strikeout bug is still biting as he has wiffed 13 times on the young year.

Expect Rick Ankiel to receive two ovations today, one when he walks to the plate for the first time and another when he strikes out for the first time as a visitor.

Ankiel has always been a favorite in St. Louis and many fans will hope to see a little bit of St. Louis put Rick back on the right track in 2011.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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The Cardinals In Time: Albert Arrives And The MV3

During the offseason we have been taking a look at the past, giving readers a timeline of St. Louis baseball throughout history. Last time we learned about Tony LaRussa’s arrival in St. Louis, the great home run chase of 1998, and brought the team back to the playoffs for the first time since the days of Whiteyball in St. Louis. A postseason collapse in 2000 left the team wondering what was coming next…

After rookie pitcher Rick Ankiel had a rather historic meltdown during the 2000 postseason run for the Cardinals, the organization had some rather large concerns about how their young phenom would recover for the 2001 season. Their cause for concern was legitimate – the 21 year old was not the same player, making only six starts on the year, going 1-2 and serving up a rather grotesque 7.13 ERA over 24 innings (that would be 4 innings a start, in case you had not thought about it).

By the end of the season, the Cardinals – not to mention all of baseball – were talking about a very different 21 year old. When Spring Training was about to break, manager Tony LaRussa had a choice to make about a young player. He had an impressive spring, but was it enough to make the team? Veteran first baseman Mark McGwire pleaded with the skipper to keep the kid around, watch him, believe in him. When veteran outfielder and free agent signee Bobby Bonilla went down with a hamstring injury right before the beginning of the season, the decision was made: Albert Pujols had made the team.

Albert Pujols

The young player did nothing but rake all season long, hitting .329/.403/.610 with 37 home runs and 130 runs batted in, all while playing first, third, left field and right field, even though his natural position was third base! He was the unanimous Rookie of the Year choice, and somehow was not the team leader in OPS with 1.013. That distinction went to the much maligned J.D. Drew, who seemed to be injured as much if not more than he was healthy.

But what about the team? The first half seemed to be rather frustrating, going 43-43 and not really making a push to take over in the NL Central. Passing off Ray Lankford to the Padres in return for Woody Williams on August 2 gave the starting rotation a jolt, and Williams himself went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch. Matt Morris had a career year, going 22-9. They tied the Astros for the NL Central crown, but lost the season series with Houston and was awarded the Wild Card. Unfortunately, the team ran into the two headed Arizona monster of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in the NLDS, and couldn’t battle through. It was a quick exit, but there were some strong pieces in place leading into the next year.

2002 seemed to be a year of tragedy for the team. April started the year off poorly (12-14), but a strong May (18-10) began to show a team that would not let up and played through it all. On the morning of June 18, the team was tied for first, but Darryl Kile pitched a tidy 7.2 innings of one run ball to push the team into first, while the team then learned of the passing of legendary broadcaster Jack Buck. Cardinal Nation mourned the loss of the longtime voice of the Cardinals, but the mourning was far from over.

Just four days later, the Cardinals were in Chicago, gearing up for a nationally broadcasted day game against the Chicago Cubs. When Darryl Kile did not arrive at the ballpark, teammates became concerned. Eventually it was discovered that the pitcher who had just so recently pitched them into first place had died suddenly with a coronary disease. The game was postponed, and the team was heartbroken, shocked and in disbelief at what had happened.

Spurred on by the memory of their fallen teammate, the club put together a blistering second half. July trades bringing in veteran starter Chuck Finley and slick fielding third baseman Scott Rolen helped the team march to the playoffs. There was whisper that this would be a team of destiny, battling through adversity and fighting their way to the top. Unfortunately, October is far from scripted. The resilient team was shut down by the Giants in the NLCS, but the 97-65 record was nothing to be ashamed of, and there was a rather fearsome lineup brewing…

So who was to blame for the 85-77, third place finish in the Central in 2003? Do not look at the lineup. They only finished in the top three in almost every offensive category. The blame seems to be on the rotation. The boys played roughly .500 ball every single month of the season, with June (16-11) being the only month in which they even looked like a strong team. The NL Central was almost split into two divisions, with the Cubs, Astros and Cardinals all playing just over 500, while the Pirates, Reds and Brewers playing 10-20 games under .500. Consider this the first season where the term ‘Comedy NL Central’ came from.

There were positives. A lineup with Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Scott Rolen hitting back-to-back-to-back was never something to frown about, and the three players put on a show. The trio combined for 110 home runs, 317 RBI, and combined for a 1.008 on base plus slugging percentage. On the pitching rubber, Woody Williams continued his career resurgence, going 18-9 with a 3.87 ERA over 220 innings pitched. Alas, there were not a lot of positives about the starting rotation, and considering there were 16 starts made by Jason Simontacchi (interesting mainly because of how Mike Shannon referred to him as “Simo-man”), and 6 starts each by Jeff Fassero and Sterling Hitchcock, it is obvious there was some squirrelly stuff going on. The pitchers combined to finish eleventh in team ERA, thirteenth in hits, fifteenth in home runs allowed, and twelfth in strikeouts recorded.

2004 was much different. This team was out for blood from day one, spending 102 games in first place and finishing an astounding 105-57, the best finish for the team since 1944, back when Stan Musial was roaming the grass of Sportsman’s Park. This was the year of the MV3, with Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen all putting up big numbers and rolling into the playoffs with ease. A deceptive April (12-11) and May (15-12) didn’t make them favorites by any means. Many picked the Cubs to make the playoffs, but the Cardinals blew them out of the water. The only trade came after the trading deadline, picking up Larry Walker from the Rockies in return for Luis Martinez and Chris Narveson. The club was a juggernaut that went full throttle all the way to the World Series.

The Series looked to be evenly matched, and both teams had played a full seven game League Championship Series, so there was really no talk of one team being more ‘rested’ or relaxed than the others. The Series started in Boston, and the Cardinals quickly found themselves in a 2 games to none hole and St. Louis bound. The Cardinals had gone full steam all year long, but the Red Sox were playing the “team of destiny” card. They went back to St. Louis, broke the curse of the Bambino and danced on the grass of Busch Stadium after sweeping them right out of the Series. It was a crushing end to a brilliant season, and everyone knew the Cardinals would be the team to beat the next year as well.

The team to beat? More like unbeatable. The 2005 club pulled in to first place on April 16, and never found themselves looking up from second again the rest of the year. The only month they played that was under a .590 winning percentage was September, where they cooled to a mere 13-13 record for the month. The team spend an astounding 155 days in first place. They made no significant trades in season and were the favorites to march all the way to the World Series.

Ace of the staff Chris Carpenter had a Cy Young winning year, going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA and 241.2 innings pitched, including seven complete games. He was not the only accolade winner that year, as Albert Pujols had his first career MVP win, hitting .330/.430/.609, hitting 41 home runs and driving in 117 runs, which was actually a career low for the slugging first baseman at that point in his career.

For the second year in a row the Houston Astros stood between them and the Series. The bitter rivals put on a show, with circus catches by Jim Edmonds, dominant pitching performances by Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter, and Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman launching home runs deep into the night. Eventually the Astros won out and advanced on, but the rivalry became one that fans would remember for the next few years.

Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.

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Where Are They Now: Rick Ankiel

Few names in St. Louis Cardinals history elicit a wider range of emotions and opinions than that of Rick Ankiel. To be fair, few players in Major League Baseball history have had the kind of career Ankiel has had.

It seems impossible that Ankiel will only turn 32 this July. He made his Major League debut back in 1999…less than a week after the Cards inked a new draft pick named Albert Pujols to his first professional deal. Ankiel the pitcher was young, left-handed, and threw hard. On a pitching staff decimated by injuries, Ankiel saw action in nine games (five starts), throwing 33 innings with an eye-popping 10.6 K/9. His potential was intoxicating.

Ankiel’s 2000 regular season proved to be the coming out party Cardinals fans were hoping for. He made 30 starts, going 11-7 with a 3.50 ERA (tops in the Cards’ rotation) and 194 strikeouts in 175 innings. Ankiel even batted .250 with 2 home runs to boot. He finished second to Rafael Furcal for NL Rookie of the Year and helped his team win the division title. It really was a storybook year.

Unfortunately, the final chapter was a disaster. Again decimated by injuries, the Cards’ rotation was thin going into the 2000 Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. Tony LaRussa decided to pitch rookie Ankiel in Game 1 and ace Daryl Kile in Game 2. It was a move LaRussa would ultimately regret. After two easy innings, Ankiel spiraled into one of the most epic meltdowns in baseball history in the third inning of Game 1. He allowed four runs on two hits, four walks, and five wild pitches…and we’re not talking overthrown offspeed pitches that hit the dirt and skip by the catcher; these were back-to-the-screen, out-of-this-world wild pitches. Lost the ability to pitch wild pitches. The Cardinals eventually on the game and Ankiel laughed his performance off afterward, but the event was but a precursor of what was to come for the 20 year old. The Cards swept the Braves in that series, and faced the New York Mets in the NLCS. Ankiel started Game 2, but this time couldn’t even make it through the first inning. Again, pitches were thrown to the backstop. Ankiel’s control was gone. He would appear in relief later in the series, throwing wild pitches and walking batters again. The Cards would lose the series to the Mets, but they also lost their phenom pitcher who, just a couple of weeks earlier, looked like the best young hurler in the game.

Ankiel’s control problems followed him into the 2001 season, eventually earning him a demotion to AAA. It was the first step of what would become a long descent to rookie-league ball. After somewhat of a bounceback by the end of 2001, Ankiel would miss all of 2002 due to injury and eventually would have Tommy John surgery in 2003. In 2004 he would return to the Cardinals, pitching in five games in relief but showing none of the control issues that derailed him earlier in the decade.

It wouldn’t be long before his demons returned, though, and Ankiel announced in 2005 that he was giving up pitching to become an outfielder. After all the promise, disappointment, speculation, hope, and confusion, Ankiel’s career as a pitcher was apparently over.

Ankiel had to again visit the lowest levels of the minor leagues, but he would not be deterred. He battled injury and learned familiarity with a new role and made it back to the St. Louis Cardinals, this time as an outfielder, in 2007. Cardinal fans delivered standing ovations for Ankiel in his first game back; he thanked them by hitting a home run. A couple days later, Ankiel hit two home runs in a game (aside: I happened to be in the right field bleachers, in the first row overlooking the bullpen, that day…the homers were close enough that I could pick myself out in the TV replays I saw later that night). He hit .285 in 2007 and mashied 25 home runs in 2008. As an outfielder, the arm that was responsible for ridiculous curveballs and mid-90s heat as a pitcher proved to be an asset at gunning down runners trying to take an extra base. Ankiel had good speed and good instincts. He made catches the team hadn’t seen since Jim Edmonds’ heyday, even crashing head-first into the wall on one play and having to be carted off on a stretcher.

Perhaps it was his late start, or perhaps it was beginner’s luck run out…but Ankiel would regress to become an average hitter who struck out too much. The Cardinals had good players like Colby Rasmus pushing toward the big leagues, and 2009 was Ankiel’s last year with the Cards. His career with the Redbirds ended as a cruel irony in the ’09 Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers: in Game 2, Ankiel—mainly known for his defense by that point—sat on the bench and watched while Matt Holliday muffed the line drive that ultimately cost the Cards the game, and Ankiel’s only two at bats in the series both resulted in strikeouts—what he was most known for as a pitcher.

Since leaving the Cardinals, Ankiel signed a one year deal with the Kansas City Royals in 2010, eventually got traded to the Braves mid-season, and signed a one year deal for 2011 with the Washington Nationals. He still has some pop, but he still strikes out too much. His defense is above average, however, and he is a threat to throw runners out at any base from anywhere in the outfield. Ankiel will never be an elite position player, and he may not have much of a career as a starter if he cannot learn better plate discipline. But he is one of those natural athletes who can meet any challenge put before him. Every once in a while, the idea of Ankiel taking the mound again one day is floated by fans or writers, and though the answers given by his managers vary, Ankiel has never publicly said he’d like to try pitching again.

Ankiel is the ultimate enigma. How he lost his pitching control remains a mystery to this day. How he could come back years later and have a successful run as an outfielder is almost as impressive as his rookie campaign. It’s doubtless Cardinal fans would love seeing Ankiel succeed. As a visiting player, he will probably always get just a little more applause at Busch Stadium than his teammates. But no matter what he does, Ankiel will always be most remembered as the flame-throwing southpaw pitcher with the ankle-breaking curve…and what might have been.

Chris Reed is a freelance writer who also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and at Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.

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